And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the leastof them, you did it to Me. (Matthew 25:40)
We have spent nearly two years in our Leadership and Global Perspectives course talking about how to lead. Themes that have emerged again and again are the ideas of service and influence. One person who exemplifies these characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ is Jackie Pullinger.
Imagine going to work every single day in a slum area. Everywhere you walk you are slushing through the worst imaginable sewage. You walk with your head down in case someone from the tenement above you throws their slop out their window. The streets are filled with homeless men and women and children. Most are lying in a drug-induced stupor. Many of these will die soon. You cannot help them all. You are only one person. But you can be faithful to your calling and follow where God leads. You can do all you can for even a few people. You can make opportunities for the young, especially, so that they can kick their drug habits and look forward to a totally different life. You accept this call for the long term knowing that poverty and danger from gangs will be your daily lot in life. You have very little outside help.
What kind of a person does this? A person who loves her Savior Jesus Christ and accepts His love for the lost will do this – a person like Jackie Pullinger. In her autobiography, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens, written with Andrew Quicke, we read the story of how Jackie ended up in such a place.
Jackie Pullinger knew that she wanted to be a missionary from the time she was a young child. Even before she really knew what missionaries do she made the decision to be one in her Sunday School class at age five when she heard a missionary speak.
Growing up, Jackie put her thoughts of missionary work aside and lived as any other young girl in Britain. Eventually she went to the Royal College of Music.
After visiting with Christian friends she had a dream about missionary work and was determined to follow her girlhood dream and serve the Lord on the mission field. She decided to go to Hong Kong. She would end up working in the Walled City, a place known for violence and drugs.
Opium and heroin abuse – “chasing the dragon” – was an epidemic in the Walled City. The Walled City was a mere six acres but had a population of 30,000 people. Many of the addicts used a method where they smoked the opium rather than injecting it. Injected drugs were very strong and it was too easy to overdose.
When Jackie got to Hong Kong she started a Youth Club. Many of the boys who came were members of the Triad gangs. These boys were rough and used to violence, including murder. They were skeptical of this British woman but gradually over the years as Jackie continued to live among them they began to trust her.
Who else would live in one of the most dangerous places in the world for the rest of her life? Most missionaries who went to Hong Kong only stayed a few weeks or a few months. They had money and lived in nicer homes. As soon as their money ran out or they got tired of the filth of the Walled City, they went home. They did not have much credibility with the gangs. The gang members expected Jackie to leave like all the rest. But Jackie not only stayed, she lived among them.
One by one many of the gang members became Christians. When the gang members kicked the drug habit they stayed away from drugs for life. The boys turned to Jesus. Many of them went on to witness to their families and former gang friends. When the addicts who really wanted to change could see the miracle of healing that faith in Jesus brings, they were willing to listen to the Gospel. Not all accepted the truth, but many did.
Some were afraid of going “cold turkey” from their addiction. The pain of the withdrawals was horrific and some even died during withdrawal. But many of those who turned to Christ for forgiveness and trusted in Him for their new life never went through the withdrawals. Some didn’t even have so much as a headache. These miraculous healings helped to draw others to Christ.
Not everyone of course had complete relief. And some who turned to Christ did not reform immediately. They needed help. Jackie opened up homes and soon many were begging her to give them a place to stay and overcome their addiction. Jackie would try and keep them for as long as possible while they reformed and really learned how to live a Christian life.
Many of the boys who had been converted worked in the homes. This freed Jackie to continue to go out into the streets and tell people about Jesus.
Over the years Jackie’s efforts led to an amazing degree of success. She not only helped gang members kick their habit, but she even had a chance to speak to some of the dangerous gang leaders. She won their respect. In fact, on one occasion after vandals destroyed her Youth club, a gang boss sent guards to watch her building and make sure it didn’t happen again.
The gangs had a rule that once you were a gang member you were a gang member for life. It was dangerous for the boys to leave their gangs. Jackie told them that they could not serve two masters. They had to choose the gang or Jesus. The boys who left the gangs could expect severe retribution or even death. Here again God intervened. Jackie got the gang bosses to promise that they would not bother the boys who left the gang.
She was somewhat successful because, strange as it may seem, the gang bosses did not like their men on drugs. A drug addict could be worse than useless. They wanted to make money by selling drugs to others, but they wanted their own men to be drug free. Since Jackie had success in getting men and boys to give up drugs completely, and the gang bosses had been unable to do this, they had much respect for her.
The drug bosses renounced their claims on any boys who became Christians. This was unprecedented in Hong Kong gang culture. Truly it is a work of God.
Years rolled by and Jackie opened several more homes. The work expanded and with the help of some American missionaries she set up the St. Stephen’s Society. It is still in existence today and is one of the most successful organizations in the world, rescuing hundreds of young people from a life of misery on the streets. For some very heartwarming and encouraging stories go to the web page of St. Stephen’s Society, ststephenssociety.com.
The Walled City was eventually pulled down and cleaned up in the 1990’s. Jackie has continued her work there. Today there are over 200 people living in different homes coming off of drugs and being helped to a new life. The work has expanded to other countries including the Philippines.
Jackie Pullinger continued to give her life to the poor and forgotten. Many now have a sweet life in Christ instead of a bitter life on the streets thanks to Jackie’s faithfulness. How blessed we will be when we get to actually meet Jackie in Hong Kong this fall.